We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Joey Bada$$ to discuss his debut album, current goals, Nas comparisons, fan base and more.

If a selfie is anything to go by, Brooklyn-born rapper Joey Bada$$ can count Malia Obama as a fan. A photo of the first daughter wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the rapper’s “Pro Era” hip-hop collective logo resulted in a Kardashian-level internet-breaking scenario, complete with an FBI investigation and twitter trending status.

At the adidas store, however, the Obama chaos is a distant memory and a very relaxed Joey Bada$$ manages a brief greeting before returning to a margherita pizza he seems determined to make quick work of. “Munchies?” I ask jokingly. “Yeah, I have the munchies but I’m not high though, I’m just really hungry,” he says by way of explanation.

Having worked on his own line through adidas skateboarding, his involvement with the launch of the Superstar campaign makes the intuitive kind of sense one doesn’t stop to think too hard about. On the other hand, when one does stop to think about it in the wider context of the campaign, it only seems natural.

“It’s not what you think” and “reclaim superstar” are just a few of the slogans surrounding the newest adidas campaign, which utilizes famous faces like Pharrell Williams, David Beckham and Rita Ora to shift the narrative of what it means to be famous. Placed among these household names, the 19-year-old first-generation Brooklynite perhaps fits adidas’ redefined Superstar profile better than anyone else. Not only is he spectacularly unruffled about his own hype, he’s already politely passed on a Roc Nation offer, opting to continue on the independent route until he felt the time was right. If that’s any marker of his intentions, one might say he’s navigating the industry with a singular goal in mind: to make music with complete artistic autonomy.

“The goal is not to try to be a superstar,” Joey shares. “It’s really more about doing what my purpose is, and that’s being a good musician, a good artist and being true to myself.” This sentiment hearkens back to some of the most historical moments in the Superstar and hip-hop’s shared history. Most notably, Run-D.M.C.’s adoption of the sneaker–worn laceless with the tongue pushed out–as an unofficial uniform and non-verbal sign of refusal to conform to mainstream standards of appropriate dress. The group even released the 1986 track “My Adidas” to address the pervasive stereotypes against b-boy culture and urban communities, which at the time, had its fair share of detractors.

Though in a different time and with a different purpose, Joey’s own determination to create on his own terms reveals a certain parallel. In his case, the refusal to compromise his artistic identity is no longer about the preconceived notions that go along with “urban style” as Run-D.M.C. contended with, but rather about reaching his career pinnacle, purely through his own design. He’s already come incredibly far. Joey’s debut studio album B4.Da.$$ (on which he boasts executive producer credits) was released January 20 in honor of his 20th birthday. Thanks to some well-placed appearances and buzz from major media outlets, the albums pre-sales were already impressive before its official drop.

As with any debut, the unspoken pressure is there, tenfold; add to this the fairly frequent comparisons to Nas during his Illmatic era and many of us might feel a bit daunted. Joey,  though, seems genuinely flattered. “Growing up, Nas was one of my favorite people to watch. Looking at Nas and listening to Nas, you can tell he’s just an ill character. He’s a wise street dude and it’s quite flattering to be compared to him. At the same time, I’m just me.”

Joey’s decision to sign to a label purely on his own terms has given him the rare freedom to unapologetically be himself. It’s an advantage that many artists signed to major labels can find themselves fighting for. As a result of this, his fan base is really and truly homegrown, and about as organically developed as they come. “I was able to cut out every middle man that an artist five years ago may have needed. I was able to just directly connect with my audience. My fans are real fans, they’ve watched me from the ground up.” Having seen a video of a 15-year-old Joey Bada$$ freestyling in a stairwell when he still went by JayOhVee, and having subsequently read most of the comments, it’s clear that some of his biggest supporters have been there quite literally since day one.

Words by Stephanie Smith-Strickland
Contributor
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